In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, two Shelton teams will be participating in Branford's Walk Like MADD fundraiser 5k this Saturday, October 13.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a non-profit grassroots organization with over 200 field sites nationwide. Their mission is "to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and prevent underage drinking." The money raised at MADD walks funds the programs and services they offer, such as educational programs in schools and legal support for victims' families.
TEAM 14 is walking for their third year in honor of Viviana Rose Cavalli, who was killed in a car crash at age 18 in November 2009. The driver, her boyfriend, was found to be over the legal blood alcohol limit.
"We chose the Branford walk because it's always on Viv's birthday weekend," her mother, Dee Tutka, said. "We walk for her birthday, the 14th, and this year we would be celebrating her 21st."
Each year MADD dedicates the walk to a victim, and this year they've chosen to feature Viviana. Tutka has been asked to give a short speech during the opening ceremonies, one of her first major public speaking opportunities.
"I'm really not nervous at all. They told me to write and speak from the heart so that's what I'm going to do," she said.
About 30 people, carrying pink (Viv's favorite color) carnations will be walking for TEAM 14, and they've surpassed their fundraising goal of $1,000.
"It just keeps growing. We wanted to set a goal we thought we could reach, and we’re super excited about it. But it's not just about the money, it's really about showing up and raising awareness and being supportive," Tutka said.
Also past the $1,000 mark is Cheering Like MADD, a team walking in honor of Kathy and Brittany Wills, a mom and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver in December 2001. This will be the tenth year Kathy and Britt will have a group participating in their memory.
Violet Thaqi Wills and her 13-year-old daughter Kayli have recruited the help of Kayli's American Youth Football cheer squad in their fundraising efforts. Wills's husband, Shaun, is the son and brother to the victims, but participation in the event is too painful for him.
Wills and Kayli had printed out a flyer with Kathy and Britt's picture and were going to be collecting donations from neighbors, family and friends, but then Kayli's head coach and director of cheerleading, Lucy Andrade, sent out a mass e-mail to the entire league.
"We weren't expecting that, it was a great surprise," Wills said. "Lucy approached me because Britt used to babysit her son. It's also ironic because Britt was a Shelton cheerleader and now her niece (Kayli) is," Wills said.
Kayli said the dangers of drinking and driving are discussed in her health class at Shelton Intermediate School, and that her grandmother and aunt are often brought up. Though she was just a toddler at the time of the accident, Kayli has fond memories of them. She said she has learned a lot from her parents about drinking and driving because of how it affected the family directly.
"Kathy was Shaun's best friend and Britt was his little shining star," Wills said of her husband's relationship with his mom and sister. "They did everything together, they were so close. Our lives have never been the same and if they were here life would just be easier, it would be wonderful. It would be so much fuller."
Though the pain and heartache will never go away, both Wills and Tutka said the Branford 5k is a terrific opportunity to honor their loved ones lost and raise awareness.
Wills said she wanted to include Kayli's cheer team in this year's 5k "as a community service type of thing. I just think it's really, really important that these girls are doing this because it's showing youth the consequences their close team member has to live with."
"MADD has given me the opportunity and the tools to help educate other parents, friends and family about the dangers that alcohol consumption and driving inflict upon our families," Tutka said.